I recently came back from a summer vacation to England and Scotland. Whenever friends and family have asked about my favorite part of the trip, I always say the Scottish Highlands and English Lake District. The beauty of the tall mountains with peaks hidden in the clouds and covered in the brightest green foliage takes your breath away. Peering up at these magnificent stone crags with my head tilted back to face the sky, I couldn’t help but mutter a continuous, “Wow!” The first thought that entered my head was the lyric from the song “Shoulders” by the Christian band For King and Country: I look up to the mountains / Does my strength come from the mountains? / No, my strength comes from God / Who made heaven, and earth, and the mountains.
The entirety of my trip, I saw God in simple things – a sunny day without rain, swans and ducks swimming in ponds, the architecture of a beautiful church, sheep and cows grazing in fields, fellow tourists greeting me with a funny story and smile. It took a plane ride across the Atlantic for me to become refreshed and remember to purposefully think about God’s presence in all things, no matter how ordinary the moment may be. After my trip, I thought about several ways in which I can continue to find God in everyday life.
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In my 2nd grade class, the students are preparing to celebrate First Eucharist. They are busy learning all they can about their Catholic faith, the parts of the Mass, prayers and responses, forgiveness and preparing their hearts, and most of all: about the Eucharist itself. They are beginning to understand the purpose behind the Mass and why we say certain responses and kneel or genuflect at particular times. My class was recently interviewed by a couple of 8th graders about expectations they have for receiving First Communion. Some responses were priceless, such as:
“I’m nervous to forget to say, AMEN” and “I’m afraid to drop the host.”
There were more practical answers such as: “I am excited to eat in church” and “I’m nervous to have 5,000 eyes on me!”
My students are still learning, and during this time of preparation, I want to be sure they understand how they can reach intimacy with Christ in the Eucharist.
With the Easter Triduum beginning on Thursday at the Last Supper, there is no better time than now to focus on the Eucharist. In both the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew, we learn about the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples. Luke 22:19 says, “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” In Matthew 26:27-29, the Lord says something similar when he blesses the cup saying, “...and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” We learn and believe that in this highest moment of Mass, in transubstantiation, the bread and wine transform into the Body and Blood of Christ. As I teach my students about the Eucharist, this consecration is the pinnacle moment that they must learn about and understand.The consecration in the context of the Last Supper is something we can all look forward to on Thursday.
As Lent draws to a close and the Triduum begins, how prepared are we? My class’s preparation includes the preparation of their hearts through reconciliation. We go to confession as a class at the beginning of Lent, relieving ourselves of the pain and sins we have weighing us down. As we draw nearer to Easter, it is through this penance that we can see God more clearly, grow in intimacy with him, and be ready to receive Christ in the Eucharist. I invite you to consider going to confession before Easter.
Although my 2nd graders will continue to learn about their faith and the Eucharist throughout their whole lives, my hope is to prepare them well-enough to make their First Communion as meaningful as possible. Part of this preparation is encouraging personal prayer for these youngsters. As a class, we are beginning to use more and more prayers for specific times in the day. We pray in gratitude or practice intercession.
Loyola Press offers an Ignatian Examen for reflection each day that has a variety of topics and purposes. They are all calming and peaceful, with background music and an ending prayer.
The Hail Mary, the Our Father, or the Glory Be help us learn more about how Jesus taught us to pray and other traditional Catholic prayers to know by heart.
We also have personal prayer, taking quiet time to talk to God and ask him for help or to give strength to someone in pain.
Finally, we will be learning a Communion prayer as we get closer to April and May to prepare the class to receive Christ for the first time.
My Communion Prayer
Dear God, I know that You give me many gifts.
The gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ in Holy Communion
is the greatest of all. How can I ever thank You
enough for this special gift?
At Mass we are called to be like Jesus, by loving
and serving one another in the world.
As I become more like Him, please continue to
help me. Show me the places and ways that
I can bring Your love, kindness, and peace
in my family,
in my neighborhood,
in my community,
with my friends.
(Moment of silent reflection)
Teaching 2nd grade religion has taught me more about my faith than I ever thought was possible. Now, I urge you to use these last few days of Lent and the Triduum to use prayer and penance to grow in closeness to God through the Eucharist. Like one of my students said, “I can’t wait to get communion because then I’m totally part of Mass and I don’t have to just be blessed with my arms crossed.”
Growing up, my family celebrated Thanksgiving in a traditional way. We would wake up around 8am, watch the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” Broadway musicals, and wait for the rest of the parade to stroll through New York City - from our television. In between the commercials, we would help each other cook and prepare the dinner (which was usually eaten around 1pm or 2pm). As we all grew older and moved away, my siblings and I started making our own memories with those we loved around us. Sometimes, we’ll be surrounded with more than ten people and other times it is just two of us. Sometimes, we have just enough to feed us and other times we have leftover for days. But no matter what, Thanksgiving for me is about “the food before us, the family beside us, and the love between us.”
When reminiscing on Thanksgiving, I also think immediately of the Psalms. To me, the Psalms help provide a great variety of prayers of thanksgiving for what God has done for His people. Sometimes, we forget that God is the one we need to thank. We get caught up in our own lives and think that we only need to be thankful for our gifts and talents. In my 2nd grade classroom, my students take a moment to pray a prayer of thanksgiving at the end of the day. Psalm 28:7 sums up my point: The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. The more we find moments to thank God for parts of our days and lives, the more we are aware of our own need to do good for others.
Being a “person for others,” as promoted by Ignatian spirituality, means helping those around you wherever you are and in everything you do. This is how I try to give back, by being a person for others. People need our help and we can give that through sending prayers, providing food, finding shelter, understanding the plight, giving resources, sending love and so much more! Every year, my dad leaves Thanksgiving dinner to donate turkeys to local families and people who need their own Thanksgiving dinners. Doing unto others as you would want them to do to you is the way to live throughout the year. This way of looking at life encompasses more than a holiday.
The following poem by Joanna Fuchs is about how each thing in our life can be a blessing for us - especially at Thanksgiving.
Most of All
Thanksgiving Day brings to mind
the blessings in our lives
that usually go unnoticed:
a home that surrounds us
with comfort and protection;
delicious food, for pleasure
in both eating and sharing;
clothes to snuggle up in,
books and good entertainment
to expand our minds;
and freedom to worship our God.
Most of all we are thankful
for our family and friends,
those treasured people
who make our lives extra special.
You are part of that cherished group.
On Thanksgiving, (and every day)
we appreciate you.
The first time chant roused my senses occurred on a 5 day Ignatian Silent retreat. I remember being entranced by the music—the repetition, the words, the rhythm. We were allowed to sing only for Mass and during the Stations of the Cross. It was a small chant from the ecumenical Taizé community that mesmerized me as we walked in the candlelit night from station to station. I remember singing it to myself over our winter break and in the weeks after.
What was this Taizé community? I researched Taizé online and, to my surprise, was bombarded with YouTube videos and hundreds of songs from the community located in the Burgundy region of France. I ordered two of their CDs online and soon listened to nothing else.
I grew more and more in my love for anything monastic: silence, routine prayer, chant, the Divine Office. I began starting my days with silent prayer, going to daily Mass and listening to chant rather than my usual list of Top 40 Hits. The music had a way of easing my heart, elevating my soul, transporting me to a higher world. I remember telling my bewildered roommate once as I got ready for the day, “You just don’t hear music like this anymore. This brings you to contemplate something bigger than yourself!”
I continued to intersperse monastic spirituality into my days throughout the rest of my college experience and thereafter. While in Paris the summer after graduation, I stopped into the Church of St. Gervais for evening vespers and got lost in the beauty of the chanting of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, an order which entered the old church in white robes that glimmered underneath the stained glass windows. From there, I spent a week at the Taizé community I had come to love. My spiritual quest continued that summer after I flew back to the United States and spent a month at a Benedictine monastery who chanted the Divine Office in Latin. The music became the breath and heartbeat of my prayer life, an easy medium through which I could converse with God. The chants enabled me to praise and thank God with phrases that frequently came straight from Scripture, giving me words often better than my own and breathing new life into Word of God.
Gregorian chant takes its name from Pope St. Gregory the Great, whose feast we celebrate today. Though historians argue over his precise role in the history of chant, Gregory the Great has been named a Doctor of the Church—joining St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome. Gregory, who entered a Benedictine monastery in Rome and eventually became an abbot, was the first pope to be elected from a monastery. During his life, he founded 6 monasteries on his estate. Though Gregory’s association with Gregorian chant is disputed, his love of the monastic life cannot be. (American Catholic)
I can’t help but connect with Gregory’s monastic background; and I understand his love of it. I spent much of my summer after graduation as a pilgrim or guest at several spiritual havens because my soul yearned to spend time with God amidst nature, the sacraments and routine prayer. The music and chant were the glue that held these beautiful pieces together during my journeys—adding an almost mystical quality to my prayer life. As a result, I learned what St. Paul meant when he wrote, “pray without ceasing.”(1 Thess. 5:17). The words of chant often stuck in my head, I learned how to sing, to pray, unceasingly without ever having to open my mouth. Chant has a way of ingraining itself into your very heartbeat.
We can learn much from the monastic life, which has guided thousands of men and women like Pope Gregory the Great towards holiness. By incorporating silent prayer into our days, we are better able to dialogue with God. I invite you this week to start or end your day with 5 minutes of silence in the presence of the Trinity. Rather than asking God for anything, try instead to simply thank, praise or accompany Him. Below is a link to one of my favorite songs from the Taizé community. May it help you in your journey towards praying unceasingly.
As a recipient of 8 years of Jesuit education, I, like so many others, can testify to the impact that St. Ignatius has had on my life. I have often wondered what makes St. Ignatius so popular. What about his spirituality lead to the largest order of priests in the world? What about his life has drawn students to his education for centuries?
There is an old phrase, “where the rubber meets the road,” that is often used to describe a moment of truth, or a time when something very important happens. St. Ignatius’ magnum opus was The Spiritual Exercises, a text written to guide a reader along a spiritual retreat. In the early 1500s, lay people could not go on retreat. People had to work each day just to survive. Even though there was a spiritual thirst, the general population did not have a way to bring Christ into their lives in a meaningful way. St. Ignatius sought a way to bring Christ into the daily life of all people, not just priests and monks. Because of the Spiritual Exercises, lay people were given a method in which to allow Christ into their daily lives, allowing Him to help shoulder their daily burdens. Now, people could fully experience the truth Christ had to offer. For St. Ignatius, a better way to express the old phrase would be “where the shoulder meets the cross.”
In modern times, with so many opinions and an overabundant access to information, many often find it difficult to discover relevance in their lives. In times when the Church is often considered to be “out dated” and “not relevant,” St. Ignatius gives us proof that Christ desires to find us no matter where we are in our lives. St. Ignatius also showed us that in order to be found, we must be disciples. We must answer the invitation Christ offers with His simple words “follow me” (Mark 2:14).
The success of the spirituality of St. Ignatius today shows the desire for Christianity that is relevant to one’s own life. St. Ignatius gave everything up and allowed Jesus into his life completely. In so doing, he was able to share his struggles and joys with the Lord. In following the spirituality of St. Ignatius, Christians today can bring Christ into their lives in a meaningful way, and can find Christ “where their shoulders meet the cross.”
Suscipe by St. Ignatius
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding and my entire will
- all that I have and call my own.
You have given it all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours, do with it as you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.
Thomas Coast is a theology teacher and Assistant Director of Christian Service Learning at Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a graduate of the Echo Program at the University of Notre Dame.
I remember the first time I felt true repentance. It was not because I got caught making a bad decision; not because I simply felt guilty; not because I thought about what others might think of me—all of which might be gateways to repentance, but not sufficient in and of themselves. I remember the first time I felt true repentance out of love of Christ and sorrow for the rejection of His love through my sin.
I was in a small chapel in the hills of Los Gatos on a five-day Ignatian Silent Retreat. The assignment on this particular afternoon was to spend time praying over and reflecting on your past sin, on how you had rejected God’s love and, in so doing, on how you had contributed to His pain on the Cross. It was a heavy day.
I took a deep breath in the chapel and started remembering and reflecting on past sinful decisions. Some, I knew blatantly. Others seemed inspired by the Holy Spirit. I had not even realized how past decisions might have affected other people more than myself, and I was illuminated in such a way that I saw how my sins spread out like a web contaminating the lives of others. Tears flowed unguarded from my eyes. How could I have done such things? I placed myself within the crucifixion narrative and saw that I had joined the Roman soldiers with their whips, their taunts, their hammers. I had pierced my Lord.
I felt terrible—like the scum on the bottom of a lake in the darkness.
And then I felt Him. I felt His gaze from the tabernacle. He beckoned me, inviting my eyes to meet His own.
“I can’t look back at you, Lord,” my heart said. “I’m too broken, too ashamed, too unworthy.” I kept looking down at my lap, afraid to meet His gaze. But the feeling of being looked at persisted, gently. After a few moments, I could no longer bear it. Anything, even Christ’s condemnation, would be better than avoiding Him.
I looked up. And I met Love.
I felt Christ’s presence in the tabernacle and saw Him looking at me as a bridegroom looks at his bride on their wedding day: joy, peace and love filling his face, eyes brimming with pride and tears and awe. The gaze with which Christ looked at me turned my blemishes into radiance. I became a spotless bride because of the overflow of His love. I knew, in the midst of my sin and ugliness, perhaps the ugliest I had ever felt, that I was inherently and infinitely loved, that my dignity was in Him. And so the tears flowed evermore—tears of humility, peace and joy. I had been given yet another chance, which I used to further receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I assume the joy and freedom I felt after this experience and after going to Confession is how Mary Magdalene felt when she met the Christ and was freed from seven demons. We know with certainty that Mary Magdalene had been cured of seven demons, that she was a follower of Christ and that she was present at the crucifixion. We also know Mary Magdalene, like all of us, was a sinner. When Christ met her, she might have given up. She had been plagued by seven demons and thought that perhaps she would never be free. Christ offers her another alternative: freedom. As a result of our encounter with Christ's forgiveness--both by encountering His love and by being reconciled to Him--we can live in the joy of the Resurrection.
For this reason, it is fitting that Mary Magdalene is cited as the first witness of the Resurrection. St. Augustine called her the Apostle to the Apostles. We find Mary Magdalene in John's Gospel weeping by the open tomb of Jesus three days after His burial, for she thinks His body has been stolen. When Christ meets her, she mistakes him for the gardener. “Mary!” Jesus exclaims to his forlorn disciple, calling her by name (John 20:16). “Kate!” He exclaimed to me in the chapel. He meets us in our despair, our sorrow. Only then can we join Mary Magdalene in looking at Christ, recognizing Him and meeting His gaze. I imagine she grasped her bridegroom’s feet, kissing them in thanksgiving and bowing before Him. We cannot stay there in gratitude. Christ called me to go out from the chapel and to go out after receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as he did Mary Magdalene:
“Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers” (John 20:17).
The repentant sinner becomes the Apostle to the Apostles. This can only be so after we have encountered the love of God. Today, I invite you to an examination of your own sin, of any time you have rejected God’s love. Do so in a sacred place: a chapel, a Church, a reverent place in your house. I invite you to this in order to surrender these moments over to Christ and to allow Him to transform them by His love. Allow Him today to gaze at His beautiful creation, which has become broken or tarnished by the Fall and by sin, and allow Him to meet you where you are at, to love you there. Only by knowing how infinitely you are loved will you be able to “go to [His] brothers,” to go out to all the world in love—radiant, joyful and renewed.
Kate Flannery is the Social Media Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center